Uncertainty about the return to school is growing as we move closer to September. In Boston, the most likely scenario appears to be a blend of in-class and remote learning, which the city has dubbed "the hopscotch model," and which Mayor Walsh has said he favors. But nothing is official yet. Walsh spoke with Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu about the discussions surrounding reopening schools. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Boston, I understand, has until tomorrow to submit preliminary plans for three different models. But because we can't pack buses with kids, you think a full return to class is impossible at this point?
Mayor Marty Walsh: It's still kind of early. I think what we're trying to do in Boston is come up with different versions of what school would look like in September. And that's quite honestly where we are in society right now. When the governor talked about reopening the state, he didn't reopen every industry at one time, he reopened it in phases and steps. And the same for colleges and schools. I know there's a lot of emotion around it and a lot of people have different opinions about it, and I think the first and most important thing here for me, and for the superintendent, is to make sure the health and well-being of our students, teachers [and] staff to go into the school is safe. And I've asked the school department — and the superintendent as well has asked the school department to look at different models. Hopscotch is one of them, and there can be different versions of that. The best case scenario, as far as I'm concerned right now, would be that our kids go back to school in some shape or form in September, but again, it's based off the science and data. If the numbers show that it's too dangerous for our kids to go back to school [and] our teachers to go back to the classroom, it's not going to happen.
Mathieu: As you know, a group of school nurses and teachers held a demonstration outside City Hall yesterday to demand a seat at the table. They say they're worried about going back, Mayor. Do you have a message for them this morning?
Walsh: No, and I appreciate that. And first of all, they do have a seat at the table. The superintendent's been reaching out and talking to people. You can't have a conversation with 8,000 people who work in the district. But I know that the school department's been talking to the unions, talking to employees and talking to the different levels of people who work for the department. I think that for the nurses and teachers that were out there yesterday, just look at my history when it comes to COVID-19.
[We were] probably one of the first cities in America to shut everything down, and we got a lot of criticism for it. We did it out of an abundance of caution, to make sure that people were safe and that people don't die. That's why we did it. And I haven't changed my feeling towards COVID-19. It's a very dangerous virus, and it's something that we're keeping a very close eye on. We're looking at our infection rates on a daily basis, on a weekly basis. We're looking at our hospitalization right now. And I'm watching what's happening around the country. I think we are in a better position today than most of those cities and states. However, that could change quickly.
Mathieu: It sounds like you're saying that you'll be receptive to input from those unions for nurses [and] teachers as this goes forward.
Walsh: I have been, and I think that the issue's being made out of something without having dialog with the city. And I think that the teachers and the nurses, we all need to work together collectively. Our kids will be out of the building for six months around September 10. There's an issue there with our kids not getting a strong opportunity for education in the classroom. I also understand and recognize that we have a worldwide pandemic, and all of us need to continually work together here in order to [determine] what's the best model.
At some point, we need to open schools in Boston. And when we open schools — whether that's September 10 or October, November or December, whenever it is — the work that we're doing now is all being put in place so that we can have a safe reopening at some point. We're going to be going back to school at some point. I think that the work that we're doing today is preparing us for that reopening at some point.
Mathieu: I know that home schooling has been a big part of the conversation here, and you've said that you want parents to have the option to home-school full-time if they want next year. It's sounding like a lot of parents might make that choice, and I wanted to ask you what you think the potential fallout could be here in terms of the student population in classrooms. Could this create a new economic or racial divide that we'll have to deal with? More privileged kids, I assume, will be more likely to home-school.
Walsh: I think there's a difference between home-school and learning online. So online learning is what the district would run. We would run classes. So in any model that we have, if we have an in-person model for our kids, any model allows parents to opt out of sending their kids to school and to have fully remote learning for their children. So we're preparing in the couple different models — Hopscotch model in the all-online model — is there's a major component to that, too, in online learning like we did in March, April, May [and] June at the end of the year. I think that the concern I have is, what is the gap going to be with our education system if our kids don't go back to school soon and don't get in-classroom learning? It's not the same thing, learning online and learning in person. It's just not the same thing. And I think it's going to be something that [is] out of our control. As I mentioned before, because of the virus, it's way out of our control, but we have to make sure we strengthen the ability to have good, strong online learning as well as in-person learning, if that's the case.
Mathieu: That's going to be a big conversation, I can only assume, going into the fall. Can you tell parents [and] teachers, Mayor, when we might know some official dates, for instance, to start school?
Walsh: To be quite honest with you, you can't. ... Things change in a matter of days. We were in our surge in April, and then for the months of May, June and July we've seen decreases in cases and we have to be prepared for all the different models, and continually have conversations with and give information to parents and to teachers. I think it's still too early to figure out where we're going. If you listen to the health experts, they're all talking about potential second bumps in September, October and November, but we're monitoring all the data. The science is going to tell us when and if we can open schools safely.
Mathieu: The science has been telling us a little bit about some outbreaks that we're seeing on the Cape and Islands — concerns, Mayor, that you've had about crowds on M Street Beach, whether people are hanging out around the harbor, for instance. Are you worried about the next month of vacationing, what that could do to the area?
Walsh: Yeah, I've been concerned the whole time. Boston, Massachusetts folks have done a really good job of really keeping the virus down, wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands. And we all have to stay very cognizant of the fact that we don't want this virus. This virus takes lives. It's taken over 7,000 Bostonians, and it takes all ages. And people thinking, "Oh, it's not going to impact me," this virus has taken somebody in every age group. And I think it's very important that we continue to keep our numbers down by doing all the things within our control.
Mathieu: Would you take a vacation this summer?
Walsh: You can take a vacation. I think it's fine to take a vacation. It's fine to spend time with your family, but if you go to the beach, you need to have a mask walking down.
Mathieu: I mean you, personally.
Walsh: It's difficult right now. I plan on taking a few days here and there as we move forward.
Mathieu: I hope you do. If you get on the beach, [are] you going to tell people to put their mask on?
Walsh: No, if I go to the beach I'm going to try and hide.
Mathieu: All right, just don't wear cargo shorts. We're going to have to read about in the paper.